Page images

certain conduct; to read, for example, so much Greek every day, till we learn to read it with ease : this sort of will is commonly called a resolution. We may

will or resolve to do our duty on all occasions as long as we live; and he who so resolves, and perseveres in the resolution, is a good man. A single act of virtue is a good thing, but does not make a man of virtue: he only is so, who resolves to be virtuous, and adheres to his purpose. Aristotle rightly thought, that virtue consists not in transient acts, but in a settled habit or disposisition ; agreeable to which is the old definition of justice, Constans et perpetua voluntas suum cuique tribuendi. So of the other virtues. He is not a temperate or valiant man, who is so now and then only, or merely by chance; but he who is intentionally and habitually temperate or valiant. Him, in like manner, we judge to be a vicious character, not who through the weakness of human nature has fallen into transgression, but who persists in transgression, or intends to transgress, or is indifferent whether he transgress or not, or resolves that he will not take the trouble to guard against it.

264. For actions wherein the will has no concern, a man, as observed already, is not accounted either virtuous or vicious, and can deserve neither reward nor punishment, neither praise nor blame. This is the universal belief of rational nature, and on this the laws of all enlightened nations are



founded. It is true, that laws have entailed inconvenience upon the guiltless offspring of the guilty. But such laws either were unjust, or were made with a political view, to restrain fathers the more effectually from certain great crimes, high treason for example: in which last case they may, as many human laws are, be good upon the whole, because profitable to the community, though a grievous hardship to individuals. Inequalities of this kind are unavoidable. At my return from a long voyage my health may require the refreshments of the land; and yet, if there be a suspicion of plague in the ship, I may, without having any reason to charge the government with cruelty, be forced to remain on board many days, even though my death should be the consequence. With his parents a man is indeed so closely connected, that, even where the law does not interpose at all, he may, and often must, derive good from their virtue, or evil from their misconduct; competence, for example, from their industry, or poverty from their sloth ; a sound constitution from their temperance, or hereditary disease from their sensuality ; honour from their merit, or dishonour from their infamy. This may suggest an obvious and important lesson both to parents and to children.


Principles of Action.

265. In strict propriety of speech, and in all rational inquiry concerning the imputableness of actions, every thing that is called human action is supposed to depend on the human will. But, in common language, the word action is used with more latitude, and animals are often said to act, or do, what they do not will, and even what they do not think of. An infant is said to act, while it sucks; a bee, while it gathers honey; and a man, while he takes snuff without knowing that he takes it, as I have been told that snuff-takers often do. în speaking of the principles of action, I must now use the word in this inaccurate and popular sense. A principle of human action is, that which incites a man to act.* Our principles of action are many and various; I will not undertake to give a complete enumeration : it may be sufficient to specify a few of the most remarkable ; which I

arrange under the following heads. 1. Instinct. 2. Habit. 3. Appetite. 4. Passions and Affections. - 5. Moral Principles ; deferring these last

* See Dr. Reid on the Active powers of man.

at present, as they will find a place hereafter in moral philosophy.


266. Instinct is a natural impulse to certain actions which the animal performs without deliberation, without having any end in view, and frequently without knowing what it does. It is thus the new-born infant sucks, and swallows, and breathes ; operations, which in their mechanism are very complex, though attended with no labour or thought to the infant : thus, when hungry, it has recourse to the mother's milk, before it knows that milk will relieve it: thus it cries while in pain or in fear; and thus it is soothed by the simple song and soft accents of the nurse. Similar instincts are found in the young of other animals : and, as they advance in life, the same unerring principle, derived not from experience, or art, or habit, but from the all-wise author and preserver of their being, makes them provide for themselves and their young, and utter those voices, betake themselves to that course of life, and use those means of self-defence, which are suitable to their circumstances and nature.

267. The arts of man are all of human invention, and advance to perfection gradually; and long practice is necessary to make us perform in them with ease. But the arts of inferior animals,

and their manufactures (if we may use so strong a catachresis); the nest of the bird, for example, the honey and honeycomb of the bee, the web of the spider, the threads of the silkworm, the holes or houses of the beaver, &c. are not invented or taught, are uniform in all the individuals of a species, are not more exquisite now than they were four thousand years ago, and, except where outward circumstances are unfavourable, are all perfect in their kind. Those things, however, which the more sagacious animals may be taught to do, are more or less perfectly done, according to their degree of sagacity, and the skill and pains employed in their education.

268. Instinct, being partly intended to make up for the weakness or the want of understanding in animals, is more or less necessary to their preservation and comfort, according as the understanding is more or less defective. In the beginning of life we do much by instinct, and little by understanding : when we have got the use of reason, the case is in some measure reversed. Yet, even when arrived at maturity, there are occasions innumerable on which, because reason cannot guide us, we must be guided by instinct. Reason informs us, that we must do a certain action, swallow our food, for example, stretch out our arm, move our limbs, &c.; but how the action is done we know not; we only know that it follows or accompanies an energy of our will. We will

« PreviousContinue »